I remember the first time I saw the Fast and the Furious, and how it made me feel after leaving the theatre. By the time the credits rolled, I wanted to get into my car and drive…fast. Unfortunately at the time, I was just barely fourteen years-old and not even able to drive, let alone drive fast. Since then, there have been five more entries to the Fast franchise, a tragic death within the series and an upcoming seventh entry that will no doubt pay homage to the late, great racing action star Paul Walker. Obvious comparisons from this film will be made to the Fast film franchise, but I can assure you that Need for Speed will gracefully race near to, if not speed right in front of the series that made street racing cool.
When was the last time you saw a car fly? Like actually fly? And I’m not talking about the CGI filled James Bond/science-fiction films that show flying cars with wings as the norm in the future. For the first time in a very long time at the movies, I had fun! I held my arms close, my palms were sweaty, and tension was flowing through me like the warm synthetic engine oil of a race car, and it was all thanks to the high-octane energy of Need for Speed.
Based on the famous video game franchise of the same name released in 1994, the film had many hurdles to overcome even before its release; horrible track records among critics and in the box office for video game film adaptations (Super Mario Bros., Doom, Max Payne); direct comparisons to the Fast films; and a television star Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) leading the film. But despite all the hurdles, Need for Speed delivers on its promise for an urgency to entertain, enthral, and perform, giving a whole new realism to the illegal street racing action genre.
Now the word realism can be misconstrued in the context of this review. The disclaimer at the end of the film does state that “many of the stunts performed were done by trained professionals on closed courses”, including the actors, who had extensive training with street cars and performance racing. Now when I say realism, there is no way we can explain that word without mentioning director Steve Waugh. Waugh, who was a seasoned stunt performer before he became a director (Act of Valor), on films like Bad Boys II, Spider-Man and The Italian Job, opted for genuine stunt performances from his actors, director of photography, and stuntmen, and mostly abandoned the use of CGI in the film, which gives a slight edge to the longing of danger to be put back into filmmaking.
The video games, which popularized the use of ‘first-person racing’, put gamers in the driver’s seat and revolutionized the way in which racing games were made. Need for Speed may be light on story, completely absurd on intent and plot, and have many two-dimensional characters, but makes up for it in action, thrills, and impulsive entertainment. The film then becomes a blend of buddy comedy/road-trip actioner/hard boiled revenge thriller that will have you rooting for our hero and born underdog Tobey Marshall, with every gear shift and sharp turn ahead.
The film spends a hefty amount of time establishing its characters, especially its lead Tobey Marshall (Paul). A natural behind the wheel but behind on most of his payments on the shop his late father left him in Mt. Kisco, N.Y, Marshall makes up for his payments and barely keeps the shop afloat and his close friends employed through a string of minor street races. After a generous offer from an old acquaintance, pro NASCAR driver and suave bad boy Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), Marshall sees an opportunity for the business to flourish for him and his group of loyal friends. But after Dino double-crosses Marshall in a race for winner-takes-all, Marshall serves two years in prison, only igniting a burning scheme for vengeance.
Need for Speed spends a dedicated amount of time behind the wheel with it’s characters. From the moment Marshall is released from prison, he makes his way to California to the infamous, invite only De Leon street race, held by an anonymous organizer. Desperate to use the last car that he and his team worked on, a 50th Anniversary Ford Mustang that Carroll Shelby reportedly worked on before his eventual death in 2012, a car that produces 800+ horsepower and reaches a max speed of 234mph, Marshall and his team, accompanied by the wealthy investor associate Julia (Imogen Poots) race to an unknown location in search of proving Marshall’s innocence and making Brewster pay for the death of his friend.
In addition to the hundreds of cars and parts that were damaged during the production of the film, is the passion and very obvious enjoyment of everyone involved. From Cooper, who has been very open about his excitement to be in a racing film since the beginning of his career, to Paul, who spent months dedicated to stunt driving, Need for Speed is a film that can best be described by its resident veteran franchise patriarch Michael Keaton, a film that was “born to ride”.
Within the street racing action genre, there are very few roads untravelled. And like most potential tentpole film franchises, and of course building off the success of the Fast series, Need for Speed does tend to leave its rubber behind and does tread the same path as others before it. For example, there is no shortage of the cliched comedy that gets injected into so many of these film. This time, its in the form of ‘How To Make It In America’ alum Scott Mescudi, aka Kid Cudi; or the awkward and misunderstood social outcast/grease monkey Finn (Rami Malek) who provides the film with one of its most outlandish yet hysterical moment’s, but the film does keep its original body and only trades in minor, cheap aftermarket parts for genuine muscle and stable traction on screen, which allows the film to move quickly and unnoticed given its two hour plus runtime.
After what is considered to be one of the most successful television shows in the last decade, Breaking Bad star Paul will surely be in high-demand for delivering a performance of a quiet, loyal friend who commands the road, finds intensity behind and in-front of the wheel, but most of all, is composed of flesh and bone. Paul’s fierce and focused blue-eyes are a screeching reminder of his presence on screen, even if half his body is hidden behind the power of his Shelby. But what the film makes so clear is that, no matter how rare, no matter how Godly these cars are, they are all just metal parts held together by nuts and screws; it is the man behind the wheel, not the car housing the man.
Need for Speed may be criticized for it’s brooding obsession with mythical cars and exotic vehicles, but the real shiny, prized import of the film is its star, Aaron Paul. Held barely together by a second string script by Gatins siblings George and John, and led by director Waugh, Need for Speed is an exhilarating, fast-paced action film that is just fast enough to veer away from its competitors. It may not be high art, but it surely is a triumph to bringing back the nitty gritty action of stuntmen and drivers for an audience who is overwhelmed with visual effect greed.
Night Film Reviews: 8.5 Out of 10 Stars.
Do you feel the Need for Speed? Or was Waugh’s film another loud and obnoxious entry into the street racing genre? Is Aaron Paul worthy of standing next to the likes of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker? Entertained or just car sick? Leave your motormouth comments below.